NFL draft: defensive linemen

Published May 5, 2014

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Defensive line

As the Bucs seek a return to their dominating defenses of the late 1990s and early 2000s (including their Super Bowl season of 2002), the line is the place to start. Tackle Gerald McCoy and newly signed end Michael Johnson spent the first week of team meetings watching footage of Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice, hoping to create the same pressure and dominating reputation.

Draft facts

When: Thursday (Round 1), 8 p.m., ESPN, NFL Network; Friday (Rounds 2-3), 6:30 p.m., ESPN, ESPN2, NFL Network; Saturday (Rounds 4-7), noon, ESPN, NFL Network

Where: Radio City Music Hall, New York

Bucs picks (round/overall): 1/7, 2/38, 3/69, 5/143, 6/185, 7/221

Bucs watch party: Thursday, Raymond James Stadium. Gates C & D open 6 p.m.

First-round order: 1. Texans, 2. Rams (from Redskins), 3. Jaguars, 4. Browns, 5. Raiders, 6. Falcons, 7. Bucs, 8. Vikings, 9. Bills, 10. Lions, 11. Titans, 12. Giants, 13. Rams, 14. Bears, 15. Steelers, 16. Cowboys, 17. Ravens, 18. Jets, 19. Dolphins, 20. Cardinals, 21. Packers, 22. Eagles, 23. Chiefs, 24. Bengals, 25. Chargers, 26. Browns (from Colts), 27. Saints, 28. Panthers, 29. Patriots, 30. 49ers, 31. Broncos, 32. Seahawks

Who the Bucs have

Gerald McCoy, DT (6-4, 300): Defensive leader is in line for an extension with his contract up after the upcoming season. Steps into the Warren Sapp role as "undertackle," the catalyst for defensive pressure.

Michael Johnson, DE (6-7, 270): Major free agent signee had 11½ sacks in 2012 but only 3½ in 2013. In line to be the team's best pass-rusher since Simeon Rice.

Clinton McDonald, DT (6-2, 297): Started the Super Bowl for the Seahawks and should step in next to McCoy as the starting nose tackle. Had 5½ sacks in 2013 after none over his first three seasons.

Adrian Clayborn, DE (6-3, 280): Moves to left end with Johnson's arrival, but the team didn't pick up his option for 2015.

William Gholston, DE (6-6, 281): Broke out with 22 tackles over the last five games of 2013 (his rookie season). Can help inside at tackle as well as be the top backup at end.

Akeem Spence, DT (6-1, 307): Likely pushed out of the starting lineup by McDonald after 14 starts as a rookie in 2013. Solid third tackle had 29 tackles last season.

Da'Quan Bowers, DE (6-4, 288): Just seven tackles and one sack last season. If the team drafts an end, he could be battling for a roster spot.

Top five draft prospects

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (6-6, 266): The likely top overall pick (right) has been much anticipated since his helmet-popping hit during the January 2013 Outback Bowl.

Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (6-1, 285): Stock has risen steadily into the middle of the first round and, perhaps, top 10. Led Division I-A with 28½ tackles for loss in 2013.

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Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame (6-5, 304): Big, versatile end who had 20½ sacks in 28 career starts. Could play inside but likely a powerful end in the NFL.

Tim Jernigan, DT, Florida State (6-2, 299): Strong and tough against the run. Emerged as a starter in 2013 (junior season) while recording a team-high 11 tackles for loss.

Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame (6-2, 331): Huge run-stuffer had surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee in November but is another dominant interior lineman expected to go in the first round.

Under the radar

Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg (6-6, 252): A basketball star who played one season of Division II football, he's a midround prospect who could get a look at tight end as well. Impressed scouts at the East-West Shrine Game.

Free agency

The Bucs made a splash, signing Michael Johnson (five years, $43.75 million, $24 million guaranteed) and Clinton McDonald (four years, $12 million, $4.75 million guaranteed) to start around Gerald McCoy.

Best guess

The Bucs have been linked to a few 3-4 outside linebackers who could transition to 4-3 ends such as UCLA's Anthony Barr. But that seems unlikely at No. 7. It wouldn't be surprising if they used their second-round pick (No. 38) on a pass-rusher such as Stanford's Trent Murphy.